The Embarcadero

A Walk Along the Embarcadero is Dotted with San Francisco Landmarks


Embarking on an Embarcadero Adventure

The beauty contest vote is unanimous: the Embarcadero along San Francisco’s waterfront is good-looking. Its palm tree-lined esplanade is ideal for a stroll, providing pedestrians with several million dollar views.

From Baseball to Barking Sea Lions

Sailboats are berthed adjacent to AT&T Park, home to the San Francisco Giants, a stadium with bayfront bleacher views. America’s most aesthetically-pleasing and mouth-wateringly appetizing major league ballpark, it’s not necessary to be a Giants fan to enjoy America’s favorite pastime. It’s at the eastern end of a 2.5 mile walk along the waterfront to Pier 39 at the other end of Embarcadero. At the midway point is the beautiful Ferry Building.

Along the Embarcadero, glance to one side, where irresistible eye candy is the sparkling water of San Francisco Bay topped off by its steel centerpiece San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. Look to the other to see a distinctive city skyline mixing architectural statements in a sleek Transamerica pyramid set off by a simple cylinder of Coit Tower atop Telegraph Hill.

As painted heritage streetcars trundle past along old trolley tracks, seagulls perch on wooden piers while people snap selfies from a free perch on a bench at the water’s edge to the rear of the Ferry Building. Other folks don’t linger, so as not to miss the boat. This is also the departure gate for Sausalito, a half-hour journey that’s widely considered one of the world’s most beautiful ferry rides.

The Ferry Building

Step inside the arcade of the former terminal, a 19th century Beaux-Arts building crowned by a clock tower inspired by Seville Cathedral’s medieval landmark. Light streams into the marketplace where aromas and tastes, sights and sounds, commuters and tourists converge in a lively scene. In this foodie paradise, a tote bag comes in handy when faced with an overwhelming selection of locally-made artisan cheese, handmade infused wildflower  honey, organic Northern California extra virgin olive oil, exotic imported tea from across the Pacific and lots more from dozens of small business vendors.

What cannot be transported home can be consumed on the spot: fresh, succulent oysters from Tomales Bay, award-winning Vietnamese cuisine, a chilled glass of Napa Valley sparkling wine or the best cup of fresh brewed coffee ever. Brown bag it on a bench, get a window seat in a restaurant, wander into a café, or make up a picnic for the park.

At the Ferry Building, things get even livelier three times a week, when the non-profit Ferry Plaza Farmers Market is held on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Farmers, ranchers, fishermen, chefs, bakers and makers drive in from all over the Bay Area to offer stalls selling mainly certified organic fruits, vegetables, herbs, flowers, meats, eggs, breads, cheeses, jams. The larger Saturday gathering features free chef demonstrations, flyers with cooking and storage tips, recipes and food trucks with an array of artisan street food such as wood-fired pizza, grilled sandwiches, ethnic meals, curries and tacos. Proudly displaying gluten-free pretzels to prized heirloom tomatoes, there’s plenty of opportunity to chat with proprietors.

Are You Curious?

When the tummy is satisfied, it’s time to consider nourishment for the other senses. Just one-half mile along the Embarcadero from the Ferry Building, the entrance to the super-cool Exploratorium is right on the water at Pier 15. If the objective of the Exploratorium’s founder was to change the way the world learns and to make learning fun, he succeeded...and then some.

Shards of light stream through skylights throwing rainbow prisms on the floors of four massive galleries packed with interactive exhibitions dedicated to human phenomena, tinkering, seeing and listening, living systems and the land/seascape. It’s hands-on, it appeals to all ages and it’s great fun.

Curious? Just ask one of the roving Explainers. As Exploratorium founder Frank Oppenheimer famously quipped, “No one ever flunked a museum.”

Pier 33 to Pier 39

From here, Alcatraz Island doesn’t look so far away. At 1.5 miles offshore, it wasn’t only the distance that made The Rock impenetrable. First, of course, the prisoners needed to get to the water. Secondly, wetsuits were not being offered as optional prison garb. In fact, it can be done. Athletes in the Escape from Alcatraz Triathalon swimming with proper gear have been accomplishing this feat successfully since 1981. However, the Alcatraz Cruise from Pier 33 along The Embarcadero is the easier way to go.

Upon arriving at Pier 39, home to the vociferous Sea Lions of San Francisco Bay, refer to the chapter on Fisherman’s Wharf for lots more sightseeing suggestions.   

Did You Know?

  • In 2006, a second grader swam from Alcatraz to San Francisco. His swim coach said, “If you were to ask me if a 7-year-old is old enough to do it, I’d say maybe 1 out of 10 million, but he’s that one.”
  • The Bay Lights twinkle from dusk until dawn daily as a 25,000 LED light installation on the Bay Bridge, which becomes a permanent art illumination from early 2016.
  • During the Gold Rush, historians indicate 500 vessels were anchored in the vicinity of Yerba Buena Cove, now landfill which roughly follows the same path as The Embarcadero of today. As many as 300 wrecks are under the bay near the Golden Gate.


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